By Ant Wingard
The Brisbane Lions have retained their place at the pinnacle of the AFL Women’s ladder by solidifying their premiership aspirations with a gritty seven-point win over Fremantle in dreary conditions at Southpine Sports Complex on Saturday.
Rain persevered as both teams made their way on to the field, and it remained, unrelenting for most of the match, but it was the Lions who grinded out win number three of the year in the 3.4 (22) to 2.3 (15) victory.
Over 150mm of rain fell in the 24 hours in the lead up to the first bounce, and the ensuing game resembled exactly what the unflattering weather permitted.
Goals for either side appeared a mere pipe dream in the opening term as clean disposals and possession chains came at a premium; the Lions in particular struggling to get the ball past inside fifty.
It took until the second quarter for the first goal of the game to be scored, with Jess Wuetschner tapping in a Sabrina Frederick-Traub assist from an open goal square.
Brittany Gibson extended the lead midway through the third term, converting an unexpected snap from 40m to establish a twelve-point buffer at the final break.
As the rain continued, Brisbane remained coy to handball, and instructions from the coaching staff implored the players to kick the ball downfield whenever possible. The tactic, although unfavourable on the eye, mimicked the conditions perfectly and allowed Brisbane to instinctively move the ball forward.
Fremantle’s Stacey Barr converted her side’s first on the shadows of three-quarter time, giving her side a slither of hope in the low-scoring affair.
With the margin teetering at just five-points as the final stanza began, Jess Wuetschner proved again to be a match-winner. Much like her first effort, Wuetschner, whose anticipation ranks amongst the best in the competition, intuitively poked through the ball inches from the goal line to ice the game for the Lions.
It was her seventh major of the season; the second most in the league, in a game where she produced 18 disposals and countless pressure acts inside the forward half.
Kate Lutkins again proved why she is among the best ball-users in the league, picking off several Fremantle offensive patterns only to pin-point passes to her own team. She finished with equal game-high 18 disposals at 61 per cent efficiency as potentially the game’s best player.
Brisbane midfielders Emily Bates and Emma Zielke both made an impact in the dreary conditions, laying nine and seven tackles respectively, whilst fellow midfielders Kaitlyn Ashmore and Nat Exon both registered nine.
Lions’ head coach Craig Starcevich praised his side’s ability to adapt to the conditions en route to their third win of the season.
“We’ve spent four months training and trying to be expansive out of the stoppages, dry-weather footy, trying to flick it around,” Starcevich told lions.com.au.
“So it took a long time to switch the habits back to wet weather footy, which is to get it forward any way you can.
“Breaking that habit took forever.
“When it was up for grabs, I thought we put the foot down.”
Brisbane will travel to Melbourne this week to face the third-placed Demons who suffered their second loss of the season to Collingwood in Alice Springs.
You asked for it – we deliver! ????
— Brisbane Lions AFLW (@lionsaflw) February 26, 2018